Spanish speakers often have difficulty pronouncing English. In fact, it’s your pronunciation errors that identify you as Spanish. They are so typical of Spaniards.
Let’s look at seven classic mistakes.
- When speaking castellano, consonants are very soft, almost silent. In English, you’ll need to emphasise the consonants to ensure that listeners can hear them.
- The letters B and V are completely different sounds in English. They are never interchangeable. To pronounce B, press your lips together. For V, press your upper teeth into your lower lip. Practise repeatedly. Say these words: boo, ball, dab, ban, boat, boot, rob, vet, van, value, vanity, move.
- When D is the final sound in a word, Spanish speakers tend to “eat” it and make it disappear. To compensate for this habit, really emphasise the final D in English words: sad, said, decided, moved.
- Watch out for the difference between a final D and a final T: bed, bet, bad, bet.
- Vowels cause problems for all English learners. Spaniards are likely to mispronounce ai in main, pain, plain, vain, remain. This sound rhymes with the way we pronounce the letter A when reciting the alphabet (A, B, C…). Don’t read it as if it were part of a Spanish word. Say does not rhyme with sky. My name, Kay, does not rhyme with my. It rhymes with the A in name. You’ve heard of false friends. Reading English aloud is an activity that is filled with false friends!
- Many Spanish speakers find it difficult to hear the difference between cat and cut, let alone pronounce those two sounds correctly. Think about the word up. Or lucky. A lack of luck is not good! You must practise. Sun rhymes with one (1).
- Finally, the “schwa“. This is the most common sound in the English language. It’s unstressed and can be represented in writing by any vowel, so the only real difficulty is knowing when to use it. This is a challenge for Spanish speakers, who are used to “saying what they see”, pronouncing letters in the same way all the time. Learners often say that they struggle to pronounce the schwa. But think about it for a moment. Can you say “the book”? Or “a table”? Yes, you can. You know you can. You just used the schwa twice. In “the” and “a”. The A in “finally” is also a schwa. So is the E in “moment”. So when you say “a moment”, you use two schwas!
Once you are certain that you know how to pronounce a word correctly, practise it by saying it over and over again. Try writing it as you say it slowly, so your brain and eyes connect with your mouth. Use it in short phrases, for example, “the main problem”. Repeat this again and again. Then begin to build full sentences: “The main problem with English is the pronunciation :-)”.
You have probably mispronounced these words many times. You’ve heard other students (and possibly your teachers, if they are Spanish or non-native speakers) make the same mistakes. Now you need to make a real effort to remove the incorrect knowledge from your brain, replacing it with the new sounds.
To do this, take these four steps.
- Follow the suggestions I’ve made in this post.
- Listen to good quality English, such as BBC Radio 4 or the BBC World Service, frequently.
- Have structured lessons with an experienced teacher who is a native speaker. Ask your teacher to correct your errors and help you with pronunciation and intonation, in addition to allowing you to develop natural conversation skills.
- Total immersion will shock your system – in a good way! Individual tuition will correct your errors and give you realistic native intonation. Practical use of the language, when immersed in an English-speaking world, will develop your fluency and confidence, as well as adding variety to your vocabulary and use of idioms.